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Battle scenes, part 1.5: Defense of Kel Fimmaril, tying the battle but winning the war

Original ship-of-the-line

My drawing of a Hellenic-era trireme war galley.

As discussed in battle scenes part 1.4, the field battle of the defense of Kel Fimmaril results in a draw. Both sides suffer a similar casualty count and the attackers fall back to the beach while the defenders retreat back into the city. From a strictly military standpoint, sallying from the city at all was an unwise decision as the somewhat less experienced and under-armored soldiers of Kel Fimmaril risked annihilation at the hands of the larger, better-armored, largely-veteran army of Andivel. Queen Viarra makes the decision to offer battle only hours before the enemy army arrives, contrary to their initial plan to wait things out from inside the city. During battles in ancient history, the strategy of a city’s army sallying out to meet a superior force was not unheard of—it was something of a calculated risk, the intent being to offer a quick battle to knock the enemy numbers down enough to prevent them from laying as heavy a siege. A lighter siege offers defenders a few more options, such as sneaking or breaking additional help into the city, sending messengers for help, sneaking key personnel out of the city, or future sallies against weak points in the siege lines. However, because Kel Fimmaril is on an island, there is essentially nowhere to go to escape or find help.

At the battle’s conclusion, however, the attacking army from Andivel discovers that the battle was a ruse—a diversion to distract the attackers and draw them out of position to enact the queen’s clever plan for victory. To achieve this victory, Queen Viarra uses several of the attackers’ standard operating procedures against them. The attacking army from Andivel sails into Kel Fimmaril’s harbor with eleven warships as well as four large troop transports and two merchant barges carrying the bulk of the army’s supplies. The warships and transports land on the beach, unloading hoplite marines to secure the beach and docks against any mischief on the defenders’ parts. Meanwhile, unable to beach like the military ships, the merchant vessels belly-up to the docks, but have orders not to unload until the defending army has been chased back into the city. The reason for this being to prevent the defenders from somehow sabotaging the attackers’ supplies. Viarra takes advantage of these procedures by using her army to draw the attacking force out of position and away from their fleet support.

Contrary to popular modern belief, warships during ancient times were not rowed by slaves, instead being powered by professional oarsmen, trained for endurance and combat maneuvering. As such, these men were rarely military and seldom had political or patriotic ties to the city that hired them. In addition, the crews of the merchant vessels carrying the supplies are equally nonmilitary, having had their ships pressed into service by Andivel’s government and paid a pittance for their efforts. Since sailors and merchants tend to be as mercenary as men in any other profession, the most sensible way to coerce them into betraying their escorting army is to offer them a venue with a higher monetary return.

For step one of the plan, her majesty has her Steward, Ronnius, hide with two hundred light soldiers inside the warehouses along the docks in the harbor. Because the soldiers of Andivel have to engage Kel Fimmaril’s defenders immediately, they don’t get a chance to sweep the warehouses for surprises. Once the battle has moved far enough away from the beach, Ronnius’s soldiers rush from the warehouses and capture the warships, forcing the unarmed crewmen to surrender at sword point. As the attackers haven’t had time to beach the fleet, all eleven warships are still floating in the bay with only their tethers keeping them from drifting away. It’s not difficult, then, for Ronnius and the others to offer the sailors a healthy bribe and a means of escape:

“We’re here to make an offer to you and your crew,” Ronnius informed the trireme’s captain. The steward pulled the queen’s letter from his leather pouch. “What I have here is a Letter of the Marque from Queen Viarraluca. This letter gives you legal permission to sail as privateers for Kel Fimmaril, attacking and sinking, looting, or taking as prizes any merchant, military, and civilian vessels sailing for our enemies, as well as any pirates you should encounter. In addition, you may be called upon in defense of the city or for special missions and assignments. The city will take a twenty percent cut of any spoils you return with, but in return will provide you with hoplite marines to act as boarding parties and offer a safe haven to berth your ship and replenish—”

The dark-haired man swatted the letter from Ronnius’s hand and spat on his chest plate. “Fuck yourself,” the sailor snarled. “If you think—”

Ronnius didn’t let him finish. In one move he drew his xiphos and stabbed the sailor in the chest, then kicked his body over the side of the ship. “You,” he pointed to the nearest sailor, “you’re captain now.” Ronnius bent down and picked up the letter. “This is a Letter of the Marque—” he began.

“From Queen Viarraluca,” the sailor nodded nervously, taking the letter. “We accept.”

Step two of the plan is to deal with the supply ships. As the merchants hauling the supplies were pressed into service, they’re already resentful of the escorting army and only cooperating because the army has sword. All it takes to gain their favor is to offer them a way out, though offering a bribe doesn’t hurt either. To accomplish this, her majesty sends her messenger, Terric, to deliver a letter of pardon to the merchantmen:

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” the young messenger greeted the merchant captains. “I am here to deliver a message on behalf of Queen Viarraluca of Kel Fimmaril. As you can see, we have already absconded with your escorting warships, blockading your ships within our harbor. Her majesty is… upset that you have sailed to our island beside a force of hostile invaders with the intent of sacking our city and enslaving our people. However, her majesty is aware that you may likely be here against your will, having your vessels pressed into service by the Andivelian military. She is willing to offer you redemption in the eyes of her people.”

“Oh, this should be good,” the second merchant muttered sarcastically.

“I have here two letters of pardon for your crimes against the people of Kel Fimmaril, each signed by Queen Viarraluca herself. All you have to do in return is sail away.”

“That’s it?” the first merchant asked.

“That’s it,” Terric answered, grinning. “Just sail away and these letters are yours.”

The first merchant gave him a strange look. “So it’s not the pardon she’s offering us so much as a bribe to walk away?”

The second merchant started laughing. “Sail away with the foodstuffs and military hardware already in our hold? Materiel we were barely being paid to haul, but that we can now sell to whomever we choose? Fucking best bribe I’ve ever been offered.”

Unfortunately, the plan doesn’t go off entirely perfectly. One of the attackers’ bireme war galleys realizes what’s going on and attempts to escape before Ronnius’s soldiers can capture it. Thus Doric, one of the defenders’ infantry captains, orders the crew of the trireme he captured to ram and sink the fleeing ship.

Doric braced against the railing as the huge ship-of-the-line neared the fleeing bireme. Even so, he was still nearly thrown to the deck at the impact. The crash of the two warships was unlike anything the skirmisher captain had ever felt. The great ram hit first at about a seventy-degree angle to the smaller ship’s hull. The bronze head smashed through the wooden hull at the water line, snapping oars between the Kestrel’s prow and the Scale’s port side. The trireme’s greater mass bowled the smaller warship over, lifting the larger ship’s prow slightly out of the water, pushing the bireme downward slightly and rolling it partway on its starboard side. The impact spun both ships fifteen degrees to starboard before they floated to a stop in the middle of the harbor.

“Back, back, back!” Doric heard the Kestrel’s captain shout as he and much of the rest of the deck crew picked themselves up from the foredeck. “Pull us out before they sink all the way!”

Again, with practiced skill, the trireme’s rowers eased the huge warship’s ram out of the breach they’d created in the bireme’s hull. Doric looked over the rail as they pulled away, watching the enemy crew abandoning the mortally-wounded bireme. A hundred or so sailors and rowers swam in the direction of the nearest shoreline.

Doric shook his head as he noticed the bodies of three rowers bobbing amongst the flotsam from the dying Scale of Andiva. “Sorry, lads,” was all he could find to say as the Screaming Kestrel turned to join the rest of the captured fleet.

With their fleet and supplies captured, the attacking army from Andivel finds themselves besieged outside of Kel Fimmaril’s walls. They’re essentially left with three options: starve, surrender, or launch a suicidal attack on the city’s walls. Captain Bevren, highest-ranking surviving officer, offers the queen a fourth option—one that creates a new future for not only the tiny island nation of Kel Fimmaril, but for all of the northern Tollesian city-states…

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